William Sadler – like Tony Todd and Ron Perlman – is a character actor who seems to pop in every other movie and television show. He has played Colonel Stuart in Die Hard 2, the Grim Reaper in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, Heywood in The Shawshank Redemption, Klaus Detterick in Green Mile, Sheriff Valenti on Roswell, Darrin Tyler on (Trek writer-producer Bryan Fuller’s) Wonderfalls, and, most recently, Lt. Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller in the Emmy Award-winning miniseries The Pacific. And, also like Tony Todd and Ron Perlman, Sadler made a mark on the Star Trek universe, appearing in three episodes of Deep Space Nine – “Inquisition,” “Inter Arma Enim Silent Legis” and “Extreme Measures” – as the Section 31 operative Luther Sloan. StarTrek.com recently sat down with Sadler for an interview in which he recounted his Trek experiences and updated us on his current projects.
What do you remember of landing the role of Sloan?
Sadler: I was offered the role and I remember thinking, “How cool is this? They’re offering me something in the Star Trek franchise.” I grew up on the original show and I’ve always thought Star Trek was such a great part of the American tapestry. And to be a thread in that tapestry, I just said, “I’ll do it!” I said I’d do it before I even knew what the job was. And I ended up doing three episodes of Deep Space Nine, which was great.
Sloan was a very different Star Trek character. No one was sure if he was good or bad, a patriot or a criminal. And the character’s last appearance, with Bashir and O’Brien linking minds with Sloan and encountering both him and his alter ego, really muddied the waters. What did you have in mind when you were playing Sloan?
Sadler: I thought of him as an Ollie North character. He does what needs to be done, what he feels needs to be done. He breaks all the rules, all the rules of the Federation, in order to keep the Federation safe, or so he thinks and deeply believes. It’s that same argument that went down with the Iran-Contra affair and Ollie North. You do what needs to be done and somebody’s got to do it. I remember thinking, “How freaking cool is it that the Federation, this honorable group, these honorable people for all these years, had this little worm in there who’s been changing history for decades.”
You appeared in three episodes, but were there plans to see more of Sloan? Did (writer-producer) Ira Steven Behr ever tell you?
Sadler: I think it was always planned that Sloan would die in the third one. I think they planned it as an in and out thing for this character, though there was a lot of space between the episodes. And my last one was a couple of episodes before the series ended. But no one ever said anything, that they were thinking of me for three or less or more.
You appear occasionally at autograph shows and Star Trek conventions. How amazed are you by Trek fans, their familiarity with your work on Trek and elsewhere?
Sadler: I am amazed by the passion of Star Trek fans. They love this franchise and anyone who’s been a part of it. I’m actually amazed by the passion of genre fans in general. People talk to me about The Shawshank Redemption like it was a life-changing experience for them. It’s the same with Roswell. It’s like, for a lot of people, the sun and moon rose on that cast. People need and love what we do, apparently. We spin these dreams and these stories, and people connect with them in some important way. And I feel very grateful for – and humbled by -- the opportunity to have helped people make that kind of connection. It’s a wonderful payback for an actor. And, really, I feel it most with The Shawshank Redemption. People will talk to me for an hour, what it meant to them, how it lifted them up when they were down. I’ve had a long and rocky career, but once in a while you get in something like The Shawshank Redemption, and that’s enough to have on one’s resume.
Let’s talk about your current projects. You played Jack McGarrett, Steve McGarrett’s doomed father, in the first episode of Hawaii Five-0. And the IMDB has you linked to 10 films, including Restitution, Future Weather and Open Gate. Are there a couple you’re particularly jazzed about?
Sadler: Open Gate is a film we shot in Texas. It’s about a drug ring that gets uncovered by a man who works at a rodeo. That sounds convoluted, but I think it may end up being a terrific indie film. And, actually, I’m still involved in Hawaii Five-0. I got shot to death in the teaser of the pilot, but I’ve been doing voiceovers because Jack made tapes of himself. And they say they’ll have me back for flashbacks. In one scene, the governor of Hawaii, who’s played by Jean Smart, and (Steve) McGarrett were talking. He said, “Well, this is personal.” And she said, “Well, it’s personal for me, too. I knew your father.” She sort of let it drop in a way that maybe they really knew each other. So I’m looking forward to the flashbacks. And I’m about to start on Man on a Ledge (co-starring with Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks and Jamie Bell). A man breaks out of prison, goes up to a hotel room, goes out on the ledge and threatens to jump. It’s also a heist movie.
And we’ve heard that Alex Winter called you and said he’s working on a third Bill & Ted adventure. What’s the scoop?
Sadler: I heard the rumor that there could be another Bill & Ted movie and I started reaching out to the writers and to Alex and Keanu (Reeves). Alex called me back and we talked for a long time. It’s in the very early stages. Alex, Keanu, everyone wants to do it. But the writers have to write something that’s worth shooting. There has to be a reason to bring Bill and Ted back, and if the Grim Reaper is helpful to that I’d love to be a part of it. Playing the character in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my career and I’d love to come back and re-create the role.